First, we must not let the times and the winds of our age determine what holiness, faithfulness, and discipleship are. I would encourage us away from creating discipleship and evangelism plans which are tailor-made for one generation or another, for by doing this we will, hoping for effectiveness, leave out important components of what it means to be a mature Christian. This is something akin to local schools tailoring curricula and pedagogy because of generational, industry, or research trends. At some point, they are doing all they can to appease their students or the parents, yet they are no longer educating. As G.K. Chesterton said, “He who weds the spirit of the times quickly becomes a widower.” Education, by definition, means giving students what they don’t have and what they may not immediately desire. Discipleship is the same.
Second, success in discipleship can be neither quantified nor determined by an “effectiveness” metric. Success in discipleship is determined by our joy-filled faithfulness, a long and cheerful obedience in the same direction. Faithful discipleship is what we do, whether we see it immediately “working” or not. Discipleship is the kind of activity which may not bear fruit for decades into a person’s future. We must not confuse revivalism and mass spiritual awakenings with discipleship.
With those concerns voiced, I see four apparent needs in millennials today, and there are two solutions to these four needs.
Need 1: Objectivity
There is a human need for objectivity, for us to love and live for something bigger than ourselves. This is one of the original and plain appeals of the Gospel. It offers the most objective standard for all things: our Triune God. This is particularly heightened in our time because of the emphasis in Western culture on the individual. Individualism is one of the greatest values today, and therefore more and more millennials long for something truer, better, and more beautiful than themselves. The more our citizens follow the current montra that the individual is the greatest authority for life and happiness, the more we will be dissatisfied by the individual’s ability to solve the individual’s problems.
Need 2: Truth
Along with a thirst for objectivity, there is a specific thirst for objective truth, intellectual and emotional stability by which we may live good lives. What is the center upon which we may make decisions about anything? Is there an ultimate standard for having wisdom about dating, money, church, college, beauty, ethics, social and political activism? Millenials are starving for objectivity, and they are ever enslaved to fads because of their inability to think through truth claims with order and reason. We desire objective standards for beauty and goodness, but we cannot have it unless we have objective standards for truth.
Need 3: Fathers
Millennials are in the midst of one of the greatest sociological and practical assaults on the family, and that means there is a ramped father hunger going on around us. A need for objectivity and objective truth has been compounded by an absence of fathers who can lead in providing such objectivity.
Need 4: Wisdom
Because there is a lack of objectivity, objective truth, and fathers, there is a lack of that old, generational wisdom being passed down to millennials. They are in their studies and experiences closed off to most things which predate 1920, and that means their well of human experience and wisdom is but a few decades old. We are, therefore, inclined to make the very same mistakes which our forefathers made. In as much as millennials are starving for objectivity, objective truth, and strong father figures, we are thirsting for living water, wisdom and counsel which can light our paths and guide our steps. Without wisdom, the result is activism in fads. We will act where the popular frenzy takes us.
So then if these are the four needs, what are the two solutions? Discipleship means to discipline, to teach one to become a student. There are two foundational solutions I suggest as our starting points:
Solution 1: Love God with your Mind
Os Guinness in his striking book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds states, “At root, evangelical anti-intellectualism is both a scandal and a sin. It is a scandal in the sense of being an offense and a stumbling block that needlessly hinders serious people from considering the Christian faith and coming to Christ. It is a sin because it is a refusal, contrary to the first of Jesus’ two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our minds.”
John Stott in his book Your Mind Matters echoes this sentiment: “So then in our evangelistic proclamation we must address the whole person (mind, heart and will) with the whole Gospel (Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning, coming again and much else besides). We shall argue with his mind and plead with his heart in order to move his will, and we shall put our trust in the Holy Spirit throughout. We have no liberty to present a partial Christ…Nor have we any liberty to ask for a partial response (mind but not heart, heart but not mind, or either without will).”
Solution 2: Read Old Books
As C.S. Lewis states at the beginning of his introduction on Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire…Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
Millennials or not, but especially millennials, our intellects ought to be baptized, but so should our imaginations. It is not enough to accept Jesus into our hearts. We must accept him into our minds and our imaginations. That means hearing and telling good stories.
Practically, here are some steps we could all take to adhere to biblical discipleship and provide specifically for the millennial moment:
- Invite a millennial to eat dinner with your family. No proselytizing necessary.
- Invite a millennial to read an old book, a classic text, theological or otherwise.
- Find a logic class in your city taught by a Christian scholar and invite a millennial to take it.
- Invite a millennial to coffee and have a rational and logical argument about a topic that is apparently important to them. Avoid experience or feelings as the authority for truth.
- Invite a millennial and a non-millennial to study the Book of Proverbs with you.
- Be faithfully and strongly Anglican. As Stott states, “All Christian worship, public and private, should be an intelligent response to God’s self-revelation in his words and works recorded in Scripture.”
The responsibility of the church is to, as Jesus said, “feed my sheep.” Our millennial sheep are fully human, and therefore they will need what all humans will need to grow closer to Christ: wisdom, great books, a reasonable faith, and mature fathers. However, our current culture, inside and outside the church, has starved millennials in particular ways, and so the solutions we give on this topic ought to be for millennials just as much as they are for their children and their children’s children.